Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 8: The Dragon and The Beast

On May 9, 2012 a Russian-made Sukhoi Superjet 100 on a demonstration flight with 45 souls aboard slammed into Mount Salak south of Jakarta, Indonesia killing all aboard. What has that got to do with the dragon  – the red seven headed dragon – you wonder? Bear with me a bit and I’ll make the connection. But before going into that, for this final installment of the series, let me remind you of a couple of points made in the opening article of the series. 

First, the list of items (reproduced verbatim) that this atheist finds objectionable and unbelievable that this series has addressed:

“He follows a holy book with a jealous & genocidal god, ghosts, zombies, seers, devils, demons, witches, satyrs, unicorns, talking animals, a man who lived in a fish and a 7 headed dragon.”[1]
(Not listed but also covered: The Cockatrice; and thrown in with this article: The Beast of Rev 13.)

As I said in the initial article, it doesn’t concern me that an atheist has a problem with these things. It does, however, concern me that believers in God and those seeking the truth might be challenged by charges like this leveled by unbelieving atheists.  So I wanted to demonstrate there is a clear, rational answer for each item in the list.  In this series, the biblical intent behind each item – if it exists – is explained; and those that don’t exist are identified.

Second, before we get started, let me highlight a concept identified in the first article:

Thus between overcoming the ancient language barrier, and reading the words in context, we will be able to resolve most if not all the modern questions around these often questioned biblical words.”[2]

Precisely.  The key to understanding the concept of the seven headed dragon and the beast is: understanding the context.  We must understand these concepts within the context that they’re given. With that in mind, let’s answer the question:

Is There a seven headed dragon in the Bible?

Asking that question is sort of like asking, “Are there books that contain UFOs in the library from which you borrow books?”  That’s a rather ambiguous and somewhat meaningless question. Any good public library will have books on UFOs. The real question is what do those books say about UFOs, and even more importantly, what do the books that you believe are true say about UFOs?

So likewise the charge that the Bible contains a “7 headed dragon” is a spurious one.  Because it implies a literalism that is clearly not intended.  The real question is, if the bible contains a “7 headed dragon”, what does it say about it? So let’s answer the question and set the record straight. And we’ll do that by starting with the context.

The context

The word “dragon” appears 14 times in the modern NIV (New International Version) Bible while it appears 35 times in the older KJV (King James Version) Bible. Why the difference?  The underlying word translated dragon in both the NIV and KJV in the New Testament is δραΚων “dragōn.”  The KJV also sometimes[3] translates the Hebrew תננין “Tanniyn” with the word dragon. So it’s clear what the NIV has done:  When the Bible uses the word “Tanniyn” it is indicating an actual physical animal. With that in mind the  translators of the NIV, instead of translating the word literally, substituted what they knew to be extant physical animals.

Clearly the modern translators believed that modern readers would not accept a “dragon” as an actual physical animal.  This merely demonstrates the depth of ignorance concerning the Bible and creation in the times in which we live. As I point in “Why have so many humans seen dinosaurs?” before dinosaurs were called “dinosaurs” they were called “dragons.” So those Old Testament references to  תננין Tanniyn” – “dragons” that the NIV elected not to translate as either “dragon” or “dinosaur” are best understood as being among the (great) land creatures God created on day 6 (Gen 1.24-25) which we now call “dinosaurs.” This decision to use words more suitable to modern ears is in keeping with one of the goals of the NIV, namely to provide “…the meaning of Scripture as effectively as possible in contemporary English suitable for private and public use;” [4] And truly, part of the blame for modern ears not being able to accept dragons as  dinosaurs is due to the lack of teaching of these fundamental truths in the local church. If the church is to help young people (and everyone else) fight off these godless attacks, we must provide the knowledge weapons with which to do so. (This is one of the reasons Rational Faith exists.)

What the NIV did right however is separate literal creatures from metaphorical or symbolic creatures. The Seven headed dragon appears in a type of literature known as apocalyptic. I give a brief explanation of apocalyptic literature in the second article of the series: “Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 2: Satyrs, devils and demons.”  In it,  I summarize some key points about the apocalyptic genre:

  • The message is conveyed by imagery
  • The imagery is intentionally fantastic and otherworldly to increase the impact and make it memorable
  • The imagery is typically not meant to be taken literally; it is usually intended to be understood symbolically

So to answer the question: Is a 7 headed dragon mentioned? Yes it is mentioned in the Bible. Are you supposed to understand it as a real creature? No. Why not? This part is easy:

  1. It appears is a portion of scripture known for fantastic, otherworldly images. Such images are not to be taken literally. They are symbols pointing to truths that are typically hard (or impossible) to depict – since they exist (usually) in the spiritual realm.

And perhaps most importantly:

  1. It is clearly described, not as an actually creature, but as a sign, in the “heavens”, given by God.

Here is the verse in which it appears:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads.” [emphases mine]
Rev 12.3

So the seven headed dragon is described, not as a real dragon, but as a sign, as a symbol, not on earth, but in heaven – in the direction of the stars. One commentator aptly describes the use of the word “sign” here in Revelation 12:

“The Greek Word σημειον “semeion”, translated “sign” is used 77 times in the New Testament, and generally means an object set forth, or action done to accredit a person, or an utterance. … But the sense of the word here in Revelation 12:1, 3, is to set forth in picture, the facts and counsels as they are before God.” [emphases his][5]

In other words, God is using this metaphor, this picture to reveal the acts and nature, not of a physical creature on earth, but a creature before him in the heavenly realm. Who is that creature? He is named in verse 9:

The great dragon was hurled down–that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Rev 12.9

So the seven headed dragon is none other than the prince of evil – Satan himself. So now we have further evidence to support the answer given above. Is there a seven headed dragon in the Bible? Yes, there is a symbolic, seven headed dragon mentioned in the Bible. It is not intended to be taken literally.  The dragon symbolizes Satan. Thus the claim that the Bible teaches there is a physical, seven headed dragon that Christians believe physically exists on earth is just a straw man argument, used out of ignorance to cast easily refutable aspersions on the Bible.

Who or What is the Beast of Revelation 13?

There is another seven headed beast in Revelation 13:

And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.
The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority.

Rev 13.1-2

Though it’s described as a fantastic beast: as a leopard with the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion, remember the genre: apocalyptic. Fantastic, symbolic images are to be expected.  Now look at the actions of the beast. He is given power, authority and great authority. (v2) He is proud and speaks blasphemies (v5) He understands concepts like “heaven” and “earth”(v6). He is given authority over “every tribe, people, language and nation.” (v7) Are these things a brute beast can do or understand? No these are all the actions of an intelligent human. A human from the sea(v1) – the place of rebellion against God – who is invested with all the power of the dragon. (v2)  No, this is no ordinary beast, nor an ordinary human. This is the antichrist. (1 John 2.18) The man of rebellion and lawlessness. (2 Thess 2.3-4)

Completing this unholy trinity: The beast from the earth (v11) – the false prophet. And now the satanic counterfeit is complete. You see, Satan doesn’t do anything original. All Satan does is lie (John 8.44) and counterfeit,  and pretend to be:

  • God (Is 14.13-14) – the only one worthy of worship (Matt 4.9), 
  • Angels (2 Cor 11.14),
  • A serpent (Gen 3.1);
    and through people he possesses or controls pretends to be:
  • the Christ (Matt 24.23-24), or
  • a prophet of God (Matt 24.24, Rev 13.11-13);
  • and in these latter days, I believe also appears as UFOs.

The Sukhoi Superjet connection

I can hear the scoffing of atheists now. As they mocked in the tweet above, they will continue to mock: the idea of a “devil” and angels and demons and an antichrist. It’s all foolishness to them.  In so doing they will fall into the error of the captain of the Sukhoi Superjet who crashed into a mountain just south of Jakarta. Why? Because he ignored the warning of the impending crash. Crash investigators determined:

“The Russian captain of a Sukhoi Superjet 100 that crashed in Indonesia last May inhibited the airplane’s terrain-warning system after receiving what he apparently judged to be a spurious nuisance alert, crash investigators say.”[6]

Or as it was dramatized on an Episode of “Air Disasters”

Narrator: “The computer’s database is loaded with terrain information. But the pilots think there’s something wrong with it.”
Investigator: “The Captain thinks it is faulty. And he hasn’t seen the mountain because of the clouds. And it’s not on his navigation chart. He is convinced  TAWS warning is an error.
Narrator: To the captain, the potentially life saving TAWS warning – is nothing more than a harsh annoying sound.”
Captain -[Shown disabling the warning system]
Narrator:  “The crash is now inevitable.”[7]

TAWS – the Terrain Awareness and Warning System (less the dragon is depicted above) is specifically designed to prevent controlled flight into terrain, such as what happened with the SuperJet 100 in Jakarta. Yet it failed to prevent the accident. Why? Because the captain didn’t believe it.

Likewise atheists and skeptics disbelieve these warnings from the Bible and tune out the alert – thinking it faulty information.  Thus just as the captain disregarded the alert, and killed himself – and all with him; these atheists will likewise crash – into the truth of God – and take with them all who are foolish enough to believe the same deception the atheists have been fooled with.  Just as the crash became inevitable for the captain and all with him once he disregarded the alarm; all atheists, scoffers and disbelievers who scoff at the idea of a devil and heaven and hell and God are consigning themselves to a disastrous but avoidable fate.  A fate which becomes inevitable once they harden themselves against the truth of God.

There comes a time when the heart is so hard that though there are many warnings  – both in the Bible and outside the Bible (like this one) – such scoffers ignore them all. When that happens, as the narrator said, their crash will be inevitable.  Unfortunately for those who disbelieve God, they will not wind up merely strewn across a mountainside. Their crash, as the plane into the dragon above attempts to depict, will be into the eternal punishment of hell – there to spend forever with the devil they disbelieved existed. As the scriptures warn:

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

2 Thess 1.8-9

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Rev 20:10

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Rev 20:15

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Rev 21:8

I’ve written previously that Hell is for Liars. Well, it’s not just for liars. It’s also for the deceived – (Satan after all leads the whole world astray – Rev 12.9) – those who scoff and refuse to believe the many warnings God gives to repent and believe the Good News – including the warning of this article.

In his masterpiece written from a senior devil’s point of view (who counsels a junior devil concerning the “patient” – the target human), C.S. Lewis describes how easy it is for the devil to convince people not to believe that he and his league of demons exists:

“I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that “devils” are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you”[8]

The best news you’ll ever hear is that you don’t have to wind up in hell. God made a way for you to avoid it. Repent and believe the good news. (Mark 1.15) If you do not, you will die with your unforgiven sin and suffer the same fate as Satan. (Matt 25.41, John 8.24)  The choice is before you. For those who prefer to laugh and scoff and disregard and disbelieve God, in due time we’ll see who has the last laugh. (Ps 2.1-5)

Duane Caldwell | March 30, 2020 | Printer friendly version
Follow @rationalupdates

Related articles
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 1: Jealous God and Unicorns?
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 2: Satyrs, devils and demons
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 3: Cockatrice
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 4: Witches and Ghosts
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 5: Seers
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 6: Talking animals and Jonah
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 7: Zombies
Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 8: The Dragon and the Beast


Notes

1. You can view that tweet here
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2. Duane Caldwell, Is the Bible full of fantastic creatures? Part 1: Jealous God and Unicorns?, Rational Faith, August 13, 2019, http://rationalfaith.com/2019/08/is-the-bible-full-of-fantastic-creatures-part-1-jealous-god-and-unicorns/
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3. The Hebrew word תננין “Tanniyn”  is also translated: serpent; sea monster, monster or  whale in addition to dragon
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4. The Story of the New International Version, New York: The New York International Bible Society, 1978 p.12
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5. William R. Newell, The Book of the Revelation, Chicago: Moody Press, 1935  p. 170
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6. Stephen Pope, “Superjet 100 Captain’s Mistake Revealed”, Flying Magazine, December 18, 2012, https://www.flyingmag.com/technique/accidents/superjet-100-captains-mistake-revealed/
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7. Mayday – originally Broadcast as Air Disasters – “Deadly Disturbance” – Smithsonian Channel Documentary, 2018
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8. C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 1944, Kindle ebook, Chapter 7, Loc 295
The “textbook method” of confusion Lewis mentions is of course the straw man fallacy
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